The Defense of Marriage Act doesn’t allow the federal government to recognize gay marriages. It’s a harsh reality that’s having ripple effects all the way from the nation’s dysfunctional and politically toxic immigration system down to a Connecticut congressional campaign.
Mike Williams is a liberal Democrat looking to run in the 5th Congressional District. His interest in DOMA and the whole immigration debacle is now seriously personal.
Williams is gay. His domestic partner is named Bart Hoedemaker. They aren’t married, Williams says, because he wants “to wait until the federal government recognizes Connecticut gay marriages” and gives same-sex married couples equal rights with heterosexuals who marry.
The kicker is that Hoedemaker is from the Netherlands. He’s here on a work visa that’s about to expire because his U.S. job will be coming to an end as of Sept. 30. After that, the feds will give him 10 days to get out of the country.
“Unless [Hoedemaker] can find another job, there’s no legal way he can stay,” says Williams. “He won’t stay illegally, so he’ll have to leave.”
If Williams and Hoedemaker were heterosexuals, they could get married and Hoedemaker could stay in the U.S. without any problem. That’s because a federally recognized marriage (one between a man and a woman) gives automatic legal residency to the foreign-born spouse.
The situation for a couple in San Francisco is even worse. Bradford Wells is a U.S. citizen, and he married Anthony John Makk in Massachusetts seven years ago. Wells is afflicted with AIDS and Makk is his primary caregiver, but Makk is from Australia and federal immigration officials have notified him he now faces deportation.
Williams is a strong supporter of President Barack Obama, who is coming under increasingly strident criticism from the Democratic left for his failure to make good on his campaign vows about immigration reform. And Williams is nothing if not a member of that liberal Democratic left.
Williams, 31, was born in New Haven, lives in the small northwestern Connecticut town of Washington, and works as a visiting assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University. He’s served as an adviser to the U.S. State Department and NATO, and worked as an international security adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign.
“The Obama administration is the best administration in history in advancing gender equality,” says Williams. Then he adds that, “On the immigration issue, there’s been much more talk than action.”
According to Williams, unrelenting Republican opposition has stymied Obama on immigration as on many other issues. “But I don’t want to give him an out,” Williams says. Though he sees Obama as far better than any Republican on the presidential horizon, “I reserve my right to hold his [Obama’s] feet to the fire.”
Critics have called Obama’s approach to the Defense of Marriage Act confused and incoherent. Last February, his administration announced it would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA against court challenges. At the same time, his administraion was citing DOMA as the reason it couldn’t allow gay immigrants married to U.S. citizens to stay in this country. In July, the White House came out in support of legislation to repeal DOMA.
Williams insists the linked issues of DOMA and immigration reform are far from the only things driving his first attempt at elective office. “This shouldn’t even be a problem,” he says. “It’s not a matter the federal government should be involved in at all.”
Particularly, according to Williams, when the U.S. is “facing monumental challenges in its economy” and global competition and that seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. But he adds that DOMA and immigration are both significant parts of the problems facing America.
“There are thousands of people in the LGTB community, in the Latino community, who are not being giving their basic human rights,” Williams argues. “Too many people in our country are not being given equal opportunities.”
As a political newcomer, Williams has to be considered a long-shot in a crowded five-way contest for the 5th District Democratic nomination. A flood of congressional wannabes entered the race when Democratic incumbent Chris Murphy decided he’d run for the U.S. Senate. That seat is opening up because Joe Lieberman has finally recognized he can’t win reelection and won’t be running next year.
Williams says that, while he believes DOMA is unfair and should be repealed, he adds that he’s “not arguing that we need to impose marriage equality nationally.” His position is that the federal government should leave the issue of same-sex marriage up to the states and simply recognize marriage equality in states like Connecticut that have legalized it.
And when that finally happens, Williams says, he and his partner do plan to take their wedding vows.
“It’s something we’d like to do.”